Updated 18:07 PM PHT Thu, November 24, 2016
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — President Rodrigo Duterte immediately addressed the controversy over the burial of former President Ferdinand Marcos after landing in Davao City late Wednesday evening, following a summit in Peru and a stopover in New Zealand.
Duterte, who took the podium around 11:20 p.m., gave a short prepared speech about his two-day attendance at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting in Lima, then segued to planned mass actions against the Marcos interment at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).
As he had previously held, he said he was just following the law and it was his sworn duty to do so as president.
However, he posed a challenge to anti-Marcos protesters — who are set to hold a big rally Friday.
Duterte said if protesters can answer his two questions in the negative or with a "no," then he would "gladly — and happy even — step down."
"Was the late Ferdinand Marcos a president? Was he a soldier?" he asked.
"Was he a hero or coward? Thats not my business... I was not there... I cannot decide in favor of sentiments. You are asking me to violate the law."
Full maximum tolerance
The President gave his word that protesters would be given all the elbow room to carry out their mass actions.
In fact, he said, rallies would be allowed in all public places — with no time limit, not even a permit requirement.
"Protesters will have my protection also," Duterte said. He then paraphrased a famous line on freedom of expression, "I may not agree with what you say but I will protect your right to say it.
"As your president, you have my word, you have that commitment."
ERC resignation order
To the top officials of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) who had not heeded his order for them to vacate their posts, Duterte had a simple solution.
"I demanded they all resign. Kung ayaw ninyo, madali lang yan [If you don't want to resign, I have an easier way]. We will abolish the office. I will not grant a single centavo."
The President also repeated his disdain for corruption.
"All allegations of corruption shall be dealt with seriously and severely," telling government workers to be content with their salaries. "Do not make government as a milking cow."
APEC: Opening up PH
Duterte said the summit in Peru was a long trip but it was an "economic necessity."
"In the area of communications, airwaves and entire energy sector, we are finalizing our plans to open up industry to new players to promote competitiveness."
"Bubuksan ko ang Pilipinas [I will open up the country]... It's about time that we share the money of the entire country. Make competition open to all."
He said the he had met with Chinese President Xi Jin Ping and Russian President Vladimir Putin during his trip and had discussed ways of broadening and intensifying economic partnerships. He added that he had welcomed the invitation of Putin to visit Moscow.